High-Tech Handloading

The process of handloading ammunition enters the 21st century.

posted on June 26, 2022
RCBS Chargemaster Supreme

Technologically advanced powder dispensers like the RCBS Chargemaster Supreme make handloading more precise and repeatable.

I now keep all my ammunition-creation data on a computer. Sure, I’ll make notes when working up a new load or tweaking an existing one, but ultimately my data is stored digitally. Since my loading room is only steps from my computer, the transition from written to digital data has been easy for me. Now that I’m using the handloading app from RCBS, it’s even easier, and it also makes recreating my favorite loads when I’m at the loading bench more convenient. This is because the app not only stores my load data, but it will also communicate via Bluetooth with my RCBS Chargemaster Supreme electronic-powder dispenser.

I do reload some ammunition on a progressive press, and when I do, the powder is dispensed by a volume-powder measure integral to the progressive loader. However, most of the handloading I do is small-batch stuff. I’m either working up loads for various firearms, or testing various components like bullets, brass, primers and powder. For that type of loading, I really like the convenience of the electronic-powder dispenser. It’ll kick out a new powder charge in about the same amount of time it takes me to load a single cartridge. I’ve been using the older version of the RCBS Chargemaster for a long time.

The new Chargemaster Supreme has some new features that make it better than the old version. On occasion—maybe about one out of 15 times depending on the powder being metered—my old Chargemaster would throw a charge that was a tenth of a grain off. On very rare occasions, it might throw a charge as much two-tenths off. The digital readout would tell me this, and when it happened, I’d just dump the charge back in the hopper and let the unit throw another. The new model features a built-in learning mode that allows the unit to automatically adjust dispensing speeds and stop points. It essentially learns the unique characteristics of the powder being dispensed and adjusts the measure accordingly.

So far, I’ve dispensed several hundred charges out of the new Chargemaster, using both ball and stick powders, and I’ve used the learning mode every time I’ve changed powders. The unit has yet to dispense a charge that it did not indicate was exactly the charge weight I asked for. When I first set it up, I ran the learning mode with some CFE223 powder and then let it throw 20 charges in the automatic mode. Every single one of those charges—checked on a balance beam scale—was within a tenth of a grain of what I programmed the unit to dispense.

Another feature of the Chargemaster Supreme that I really like is the open-drain warning. If the powder drain—the valve that drains the powder from the 1,500-grain hopper—is open, you’ll get a flashing warning and a sound. I always empty the hopper after a loading session, but sometimes I forget to close the drain. Numerous times I’ve began refilling the hopper of my old Chargemaster only to see it run out the drain. This is usually followed by me throwing a fit and some other things that are not nailed down. Powder is just too expensive and hard to come by to waste. The drain-open warning on the Chargemaster Supreme is much appreciated.

In the automatic mode, the Chargemaster will kick out a perfectly metered powder charge about every 15 seconds. This is about ideal for working with a single-stage press and about the same time it takes to place the charged case in the shell holder, place a bullet on top of the charged case, seat the bullet and then place the loaded cartridge aside. Once you place the scale pan back on the Chargemaster’s platen, the device checks for zero weight and then automatically begins dispensing the next powder charge. This continues until you run the 1,500-grain hopper out of powder or have loaded all the ammunition you want.

The new-and-improved loading app from RCBS is available for iOS and Android devices and allows you to record all the relevant data for every handload recipe you create. They are cataloged for the gun the recipe belongs to as well. This data is not limited to the information necessary to create the load; at the range you can record environmental conditions and the ballistic performance of your handload. You can even take a photo of the target you shot, or any other relevant visual information you feel is pertinent, and the app then keeps that photo with the data file for that load. This app essentially turns your smartphone into the only reloading-data book you need.

However, since your smartphone and the new Chargemaster Supreme electronic-powder dispenser are both Bluetooth capable, they can talk to each other. Once connected, you can use the app to help calibrate your powder dispenser and then tell it what charge weight you would like to dispense. If you already have a load cataloged in the app, just use the app to tell your Chargemaster to recreate that load. 

RCBS offers three electronic powder dispensers and all three offer Bluetooth connectivity with the company’s handloading app. The Chargemaster Link has a 2,000-grain capacity and has a suggested retail price of $299.99. The Chargemaster Supreme has a 1,500-grain hopper, offers the proprietary “learn” feature, and is priced at $429.99. At $899, the Matchmaster is RCBS’ most expensive electronic dispenser. It is accurate to .04 grain, can throw charges twice as fast as the Chargemaster and will hold a pound of powder.

The RCBS handloading app, which will control all these units, essentially becomes your virtual handloading/shooting bench and offers direct contact to RCBS customer service. It will not cost you anything—you can download the app for free from your respective app store—and is a handy tool for the handloader, whether you have one of the RCBS electronic powder dispensers or not. With the RCBS handloading app, since you’re never without your smartphone, you’ll never be without your load data, either.


Sheriff Jim Wilson
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